Where Are We Now?

They say that only the good die young, whereas the bad always seem to live forever. I guess this rule also applies to David Bowie, an unequivocal musical genius whose passing at the age of 69 on the 10th of January still seems way too premature. I’d like to think that the Grim Reaper is catching all sorts of hell for this in heaven as we speak while Bowie is already off in the corner being hounded by offers to play Jesus’ birthday party and whatever the equivalent of The 02 is in the afterlife. I assume that his “no more live shows” declaration was rendered null and void by his death but who knows? Furthermore, if anyone has figured out how to, literally, resurrect himself, it’s Bowie. There’s always the chance he could be back up on earth and wandering the streets of London, New York or Berlin by St. Patrick’s Day.

So your Facebooks/Twitters/Snapchats/whatevers are likely to be filled with tributes to the late, great David Bowie for the foreseeable future and sorry if I’m adding a further distraction from the endless march of cat memes and “Gosh, This Bernie Sanders Guy Sure is Fantastic!” posts filling up your various feeds. If you’re unfamiliar with this “weird, old man with the multicolored eyes,” well, you oughta be ashamed of yourself and shouldn’t be allowed to listen to a single second more of Adele’s sonic wails until you’ve heard the entirety of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust at least once.

But for those who have been listening to Bowie’s music since you were a kid (or a teenager or an adult), I urge you to give The Next Day a shot.

No Bowie album can be considered “overlooked” but this one is likely to be largely forgotten in the days to come. It’s not his final album and it’s not his best but I think it’s the best one he recorded after 1980’s Scary Monsters. Yes, that’s a bold declaration and might even be considered sacrilege by fans who think his poppy ’80s material is grossly underrated or for whom his meandering ’90s concept albums are masterpieces.

The Next Day is a bittersweet and relatively straightforward rock album filled with insanely listenable tracks that range from the beautiful “Valentine’s Day” to the roaring title track. Then there’s “Where Are We Now?”, which I consider one of the finest songs he ever recorded. Here’s the (very weird) video for the tune.

Musically, it’s a pretty conventional song or about as conventional a song can get when it’s been written and recorded by David Bowie. My interpretation of the lyrics, which seem to tell a coherent narrative, leads me to conclude that it’s autobiographical. “Where are We Now?” is apparently about a reclusive man living in Berlin who decides to take a walk one day by himself. He’s lived a full life (because he’s David Bowie) but he’s in the twilight of his years and he’s feeling pretty lousy about everything. There’s regrets and memories nipping at the corners of his mind like (diamond?) dogs and there’s no escaping the fact that he’d much rather still be 25 than in his late 60s. The song is directed towards an unknown person, maybe his wife, the model Iman, or their daughter or someone else entirely.

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The Force Awakens Q&A

It’s time for my first, and presumably last, Q&A blog post about all things Star Wars. Without further ado, today’s question, which was sent in from a reader all the way over in Portland, OR.

Q: So how was [The Force Awakens]? Note that I will probably never see it so you can spoil away. I’m just extremely curious of these pop phenomenons can ever live up to their hype.

A: For those of us who have been waiting 32.5 years to see this movie, it might as well be the Second Coming of Christ. For everybody else, it’s probably going to be considered a pretty good movie and a whole lot better than George Lucas’ prequels. The film is entertaining and funny with lots of gorgeously shot scenes in real world locales and action sequences. There’s a cute robot zooming about for the kids and a pretty great little story to go along with him. It’s a great cinematic roller coaster ride.

Unlike in the “Special Editions,” Han Solo is also allowed to once again be a dashing rogue and many of his rough edges back in place. [Mild spoiler] he shoots first plenty of times and feeds one of his foes to a intergalactic monster without batting an eyelash. It’s wonderful to see Harrison Ford once again invested in a role rather than sleepwalking through another blockbuster. The script rewards him for being a good sport about returning to a franchise that he’s mocked a million times over the past three decades. For Ford alone, the film is well worth a few hours of your time and the sight of one of my childhood heroes getting to be himself again on the silver screen is nothing short of pure joy.

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However, The Force Awakens isn’t perfect and I’m not enough of a Star Wars fan to go completely gaga over it. Naysayers are already describing with terms like “JJ Abrams played it too safe” and “the movie is pretty much a remake of A New Hope.” I think non-fans will chuckle at some of the unintentionally silly moments in the film, especially during the final scene and whenever Andy Serkis’ character (the ridiculously named Supreme Leader Snoke) shows up on screen.

All of these criticisms are fair but I’ll defend Abrams’ decision to not get too crazy with Disney’s 2 billion dollar toy box. The primary goal of the film, from a business standpoint, is to reestablish the Star Wars universe and erase much of the ill-will still festering from the prequels. I think The Force Awakens has and will accomplish these goals. It will be the role of future SW installments to break away from the series’ tropes in much the same way the recent Marvel movies have begun busting out of the trappings and traditions of the comic book film genre.

Anyway, if only so I have a photo to go along with this, here’s some further reading compliments of a guy who knows a LOT more about the inner workings of Hollywood and Star Wars than I do.

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A Real Horror Show? Portland’s Housing Crisis

I’m in Portland at the moment where Halloween season is in full swing. Back when I lived in the city, I tried and failed to get someone to go to Fright Town with me. It was practically an annual tradition. “Hello, family member and/or friend. Would you like to go to the Pacific Northwest’s finest annual Halloween extravaganza with me?”  “No, that place is probably swarming with obnoxious teenagers” or “it’s too expensive” were the replies I typically received.

My girlfriend relented last night and we fought through the crowds at the Blazers’ home opener to get down there.

Fright Town is an annual Halloween event in the basement of the Memorial Coliseum that features a series of haunted houses and people running around in elaborate monster costumes (like the one below, who was eager to dance with anyone and everyone). The highlight is a Baron Von Ghoolo’s, an Addam’s Family-style museum/freak show.

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BVG’s favors cheeky humor over outright scares so guests here will find stuffed “were-pugs” and clowns instead of rampaging witches and zombies. Gentrification and problems with affordable housing are huge in Portland right now but it was still surprising to see a section of BVG’s devoted to such a heavy topic.

In one room, a guy dressed as vaudeville barker screams things at guests like “SOON THIS TOWN WILL BE MORE EXPENSIVE THAN SAN FRANCISCO!” and “THERE WILL ARTISINAL COFFEE SHOPS IN EVERY HOUSE, AS MANDATED BY LAW!” Honestly, I found him about 1,000% scarier than the ghouls over in the Cannibal Cannery, the more conventional haunted house across from the museum. The crew even added a snarky banner to the room that thanked “The Brownstein and Armisen Alliance” for their sponsorship.

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I don’t think it’s fair to place all the blame at the feet of the duo behind Portlandia. Nobody moves across the country because of a sketch comedy show. Nevertheless, with each passing year, Portland becomes less and less the town of my youth and “Yet Another Overpriced American Metropolis.” As so many others have noted about a million times over the past five years, the freaks and artists are all moving on to different climes to repeat this whole process all over again. Every other article in The Portland Mercury is devoted to the topic and last week’s cover story in WW hit the nail on the head pretty well.

What’s the next American city to get bit by the gentrification zombie? My money’s on Fort Collins.

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Some Thoughts on Jurassic World (And Its Inevitable Sequel)

Is Jurassic World a perfect movie? Not by a long shot but I haven’t had that much fun in a movie theater since I saw….uhhhh….OK, Mad Max: Fury Road last month. I loved every totally ridiculous fan-servicing second of this film (expect for one incredibly cruel death scene that made absolutely no sense).

[Don’t read the rest of this post if you haven’t seen JW and/or care about spoilers. Yes, I’m about to write several hundred words about a dinosaur movie.]

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1. This is the film that The Lost World should have been and the payoff I’ve been waiting to witness since I read Jurassic Park back in the eighth grade. It offers a fully functioning theme park filled with 22K thousand tourists for the dinos to tear to pieces instead of a handful of scientists and hunters. It presents a “what would happen if Disney World contained living dinos and everything went to hell in a single day” scenario that was amazingly fun to watch on screen. I started laughing like a loon when the petradons tear apart the park’s Main Street. The shot of an overly ambitious one trying to cart off a baby triceratops from the petting zoo was great. I just wish there had been further bits featuring them running amok in the gift shops and the Margaritaville.

2. Anybody who knows is aware that I’m completely fascinated by theme parks and the film offers so many great little barbs about the industry. The horrible celeb in-ride instructional videos (great to see Jimmy Fallon show up in one during the “hamster ball” scene), the indifferent/bored/underpaid teenagers given too much responsibility on the rides, the cynical corporate tie-ins all over the place, etc.

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Posted in ani-pals, geeky, movies

The Goonies Was Released 30 Years Ago? Crikey!

I wound up in a discussion on Facebook earlier this week that consisted of various people discussing the merits of The Goonies versus Stand By Me. Both movies were filmed in the ’80s and focused on foul-mouthed Oregon kids going off on adventures.  They also, coincidentally, featured anecdotes about large groups of people throwing up all over themselves (Chunk’s theater story and Gordy’s story about Lardass Hogan, respectively).

Despite that puke joke, I’ve probably seen The Goonies more than other film. I grew up in Portland and spent a lot of time out on the Oregon coast as a kid so there’s that. It, much like Stand By Me, presented kids as they often are: thoughtful and intelligent beyond their years, fearful of and powerless against the complexities of the adult world and as foul-mouthed as sailors. Stand By Me is easily the better of the two films but it’s not very much fun to watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

But there’s a lot of stuff in The Goonies that really makes me cringe, Sloth being the prime example. I’m not sure why he needs to be in the film and his character is handled incredibly poorly (“you smell like fish heads!”). Can you imagine a scene about a developmentally disabled guy getting chained up in a cellar landing in a kid’s flick these days?

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Nevertheless, much like Stand By Me, The Goonies is also surprisingly deep for a movie about and starring children. It deals with themes of loss, gentrification, class warfare, how people become embittered, etc. The scene in the well is worthy of any much more mature drama. Fantastic and downright moving even nowadays, so says me. “This was my dream, my wish and it didn’t come true. So I’m taking it back. I’m taking them all back.” That’s one of the best lines to come out of Hollywood in the ’80s. Put it up on the pedestal alongside “No, I am your father” and “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works.’

In a nutshell, that’s why I still watch the movie every autumn when the leaves start turning orange and the seasonal gloom starts smearing itself all over the northern hemisphere. It’s also why I once hosted a show on KWVA, the University of Oregon’s campus radio station, that included a segment every week about the cancelled sequel when rumors were circulating in early ’00s (which always concluded with me hitting the play button on Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough”). And why I once “broke into” the house in Astoria while it was being remodeled with two guys that had driven all the way from Kansas to see the place with their own eyes. And why I actually attended a 20th anniversary celebration in Astoria that included full grown adults doing “The Truffle Shuffle” alongside Jeff Cohen (I opted out).

The movie turns 30 years old this Monday, June 7th, and there will be another celebration in Astoria honoring it. I won’t be there but I will be watching the following. It seems like an anniversary that I should acknowledge in one way or another even from all the way over here in the Netherlands.

Posted in movies, United States

18 Somewhat Artsy Photos From Portugal

I went to Portugal in May. It’s a magical place, as they say, and one of the most photogenic countries I’ve ever visited. During the trip, I took a bunch of photos. I “artsied” some of them up.

Here they are. Feel free to click on any or all of them for a closer look.

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The Whitewashing of the Red Light

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Quartier Putain is just one of the many examples of how Amsterdam is trying to essentially erase its status as Europe’s Sin City. Recent city initiatives like Project 1012 have shuttered several of its iconic prostitute windows and continue to lead to the closure of several “coffee shops.” De Wallen, the area better known as the Red Light District, is quickly becoming more associated with quirky record shops than weed and sleaze.

There’s even maps available these days that guide tourists to De Wallen’s more family-friendly businesses and away from those that made the district world famous. Residents seem divided when it comes to the changing face of their neighborhood. After years of putting up with poorly behaved visitors, drug addicts and organized crime, many are welcoming the shift with open arms. Others, meanwhile, lament the changes and fret that De Wallen is becoming as gentrified, overpriced and downright banal as a million other districts across Europe.

I visited Quartier Putain a few weeks ago. It’s a great little place smack dab in the heart of the Red Light; just across the street from the Oude Kerk. Their coffee is great, the atmosphere is great and their jukebox is, you guessed it, great. Still, I’m conflicted when it comes to supporting the business. Should I frequent a place that, for better or worse, is contributing to the whitewashing of one of the world’s most notorious locales?

Have a look at the photo above. Just beyond the right side of the frame, a few feet from the gentleman with the cane, there’s a row of Red Light windows. When I arrived, a group of 20-somethings were sitting at the tables outside staring at their iPhones while ignoring the ladies nearby (who were also killing time between customers by looking at their own smartphones).

It was a scene that perfectly encapsulated what’s happening with the district. Alas, I didn’t think to take a photo until it was too late.

The times they are a-changin’. And fast.

Posted in coffee, Holland, politics, vice